Saturday, May 14, 2016

Practical Benefits of Growing a Kitchen Garden

I have a small, suburban garden plot. Why? I plan to blog on the topic of gardening for a while. This is the first installment of several.

There are many reasons for even a city dweller to grow some of their own food. Which reasons come to mind, for you? (Leave a comment!) For me, the reasons are both practical and philosophical. Let's start with the most basic reasons:


Growing your own food can save on your grocery budget, of course. If you are like me, and have only a small space in which to garden, budget issues are a good reason to focus your growing efforts on expensive foods. The smaller your space, the more closely you will want to focus on quality as opposed to quantity.

In my own garden, some of the things that I grow that are more expensive to buy in the grocery store are things like tons of cherry tomatoes,  fresh basil, colorful peppers, and sugar snap peas. 

Some expensive foods, like asparagus,  can be incorporated into your landscaping, planted once, and then will produce year after year.  Besides asparagus, other examples of plants in this category are blueberries and raspberries. 

I recently paid $3.50 for a pint of blueberries in a standard grocery store. A mature blueberry plant will produce several gallons of blueberries per year and produce fruit for many years. Further, in my region, early, middle, and late varieties of blueberries can be mixed. If blueberry varieties are selected according to a staggered ripening season, a home gardener can have fresh, homegrown (and free!) blueberries all summer long. 

Perennial plants and trees, like blueberries or apples, are not free, so there is an initial investment in plants. That leads back to the issue of cost effectiveness.  

To some extent, out-of-pocket costs on the front end of establishing good plants can be reduced by making a few trade-offs. For instance, a blueberry plant that is one year old from the nursery will be substantially less expensive than a blueberry plant that is several years old. The trade-off is that purchase of a smaller plant will require one to wait a couple of years for a more bountiful harvest.  

There is also a cost involved in getting started in growing plants that last for just one season, such as tomatoes, squash, and peppers. A beginning gardener will need some how-to books, tools such as a spade and hoses, soil enrichment, and seeds or starter plants. Indeed, in some cases it may seem that investment in things like raised bed materials, soil, plants, etc., can make the investment less than cost-effective. 

For this reason, set a budget and stick to it! Perhaps in year one, only invest in a few items and equipment, focusing on a few simple, low maintenance items that you love. If you are successful, find you enjoy gardening, and want to do more, then gradually invest more in equipment as time goes by (raised beds, soaker hoses, composting bins, gardening tools, etc.). After the initial investment in getting started, future costs will be lower. As with many things, the more years you do it the more you learn and the more efficient and cost effective you become. 

Reducing out-of-pocket grocery cost is not the only reason to grow your own food, however.


Many home gardeners who have small space focus their efforts on growing crops that are known to have high concentrations of pesticides and other chemicals when grown commercially.  If you do a Google search for "dirty dozen vegetables," you will find web pages that have lists of fruits and vegetables that have high amounts of pesticide and chemical residue in them. One example is strawberries. Another of these vegetables, believe it or not, is potatoes. This is because commercially grow potatoes are treated with chemicals that prevent fungus and also prevent them from sprouting.

The ability to grow organic, chemical free food is a significant reason to have a home garden. I admit, I was not raised doing organic gardening, and I am on a learning curve. This year, some bugs attacked my greens. I responded by spraying them with insecticidal soap. (The label says it is suitable for organic gardening.)  Although I did use chemicals, I knew exactly what I had sprayed on my plants and when, and so I knew when it was safe to pick and eat them. I do not have the same level of trust with regard to chemicals used on commercial crops! 

Even if a gardener does not use organic techniques in growing a garden, we know what chemicals have been used on the crops, and when they were used. The home gardener can use this knowledge to understand when the food is safe to eat without fear of pesticide residue! 

As more and more information is learned about long-term effects of pesticides on the body and the dependence of  industrial agriculture on pesticides, this has become more and more of a factor for me, personally. 


A third reason to grow your own vegetables and fruits, is simply quality and taste.  Growers who are producing foods for shipping and mass marketing are limited in the types of plants they can produce. Namely, plants produced for mass marketing must be able to stand up to rough handling by laborers, trucking over long distances, and must have a long shelf life once they are in the store. Delicate varieties of fruits and vegetables cannot hold up to this type of handling. 

Peaches are one example of a type of fruit where the difference between a variety grown for shipping and a variety grown for home use is striking.  There's simply no comparison between peaches that will stand up to shipping and the luscious, fragrant fruit that drips nectar when you slice it and would bruise if you looked at it the wrong way. 

However, there are many more fruits and vegetables for which the difference between  produce grown for mass production and the varieties available to the home gardener is striking. Some veggies, in fact, are not even available commercially. In my garden, I grow a couple varieties of plants that are not readily available in standard grocery stores, such as small white Thai eggplant and thin purple Chinese eggplant. An example fruiting in my garden right now is Swiss chard, which does not ship well. Here is a photo of some Swiss chard I recently picked from my garden:

There are many more reasons to garden, but I will talk about those in another entry another day! In the meantime, happy gardening!

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